Cromer Town Council votes on pre-meeting prayers

A spirit of peace and compromise broke out at tonight's Cromer Town Council meeting when members came to a decision on pre-meeting prayers.

Councillors voted by 12 votes to one that in future those who wished to join in a short period of prayer or reflection would gather at 6.45pm, ahead of the usual 7pm start to council meetings.

The vote followed a 20-minute discussion on the issue, which began with an impassioned speech by Hilary Thompson, a Christian, calling for prayers to be retained.

Cromer traditionally launched its meetings with prayers led by a faith representative but abandoned the practice two months ago following a landmark national ruling that councils had no legal right to include them on their agendas.

The move followed a legal challenge to Bideford Town Council, in Devon, by an atheist former member.

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Ms Thompson wanted to read out four alternative short prayers from different faiths to see if they would be acceptable, but was ruled out of order.

She asked councillors to vote in favour of coming together for reflection before making decisions affecting the town.

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Marion Saunders, who proposed the new timings, said the 15-minute gap would allow those who did not want to take part in the prayer/reflection, time to arrive and settle for a 7pm start.

Veteran member Vera Woodcock was alone in voting against the compromise.

She had earlier argued that the council should continue to meet at 7pm with a period of reflection at the start. Mrs Woodcock added: 'I don't see why we should alter our timing to suit one or two people.'

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